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A Rise in Society: Cranbury Park on Bloomsday

July 26, 2014

Posted on the occasion of today’s New Moon, 26th July 2014

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On Sunday 16th June 2013 I had a rare chance to wander around Cranbury Park, open to the public for just one day in the year as part of the National Garden Scheme (it wasn’t open this year because of storm damage). I don’t know whether I was aware of the coincidence of dates at the time, but thirteen months on and I (re)realised the strange conjunction of that Open Day with Bloomsday, observed each year, on June 16th, by Joyce enthusiasts worldwide to commemorate the day in 1904 on which the events of the novel, Ulysses, take place. Indeed, that (re)realisation of this auspicious date only came after I decided to start composing this post (on the morning of July 20th), in which I had resolved to write about the bird commemorated in the Cranbury placename: the Crane. This is the post that prompted me to compose and post up another two that day on this avian theme.

If I wasn’t conscious that it was Bloomsday, then this conjunction is all the stranger for a ‘ritual observance’ at the spring at the foot of the hill on which Cranbury House stands. For this observance drew its primary sense from, and can only be comprehended through, a particular passage of Molly Bloom’s closing soliloquy in Ulysses, as she recalls telling her fortune by cards:

he was on the cards this morning when I laid out the deck union with a young stranger neither dark nor fair you met before I thought it meant him but hes no chicken nor a stranger either besides my face was turned the other way what was the 7th card after that the 10 of spades for a journey by land then there was a letter on its way and scandals too the 3 queens and the 8 of diamonds for a rise in society yes wait it all came out and 2 red 8s for new garments

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This water source, known as Wordsworth’s Spring is described here thus:

Spring 100 metres north of Cranbury House. Early C19. Vaulted chamber of coral, flint and
squared stone. Semicircular plan with flat front containing open arch, with
vault over. 3 round-headed reveals of rustic stonework. In that opposite
arch 2 tablets: “Written by WORDSWORTH on visiting this spring” and “Gentle
Reader view in me, An emblem of true Charity, Whe’ while my Bounty I bestow,
Am neither heard nor seen to flow, For ev’ry Drop of Water Giv’n, Repaid by
fresh supplies from Heav’n”.

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James Joyce, through his characters, Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait and Ulysses and Shem the Penman in Finnegans Wake, assumed the role of ‘the scribe of the gods’, Thoth, ‘bearing upon his narrow ibis head the cusped moon’ (A Portrait, 225), who was responsible for the writing of The Book of the Dead. Indeed the nib of a pen is also the bill or beak of a bird.  The mythological association of the crane and the ibis with the invention of writing is a reminder of the world-forming nature of Joyce’s great work, his ‘book of the depth’, in which ‘the world, mind, is was and will be writing its own wrunes for ever’ (FW 19.35-36).

Thoth at the Luxor Temple. Photo: Jon Bodsworth (from here).

Thoth at the Luxor Temple. Photo: Jon Bodsworth (from here).

As a helper of Isis, Thoth also provided her with the words of power with which she was able to rouse Osiris: ‘Irise, Osirises!’ (FW 493.28). As Mark L. Troy explains in Mummeries of Resurrection, his interpretation of the Cycle of Osiris in Finnegans Wake:

Returning to the significance of Thoth within the cycle of Osiris, the revival of the dead god is dependent upon Thoth’s words of power, as well as on the power of Isis to rouse her brother-husband physically. At one point in FW, these two sorts of magic seem to merge. The Gaelic word for the “female-place” or genitals is toth-ball or toth-bhall,33 which Margaret Solomon has located in FW when a new dawn, and a new Sire are predicted for Issy. At the same time, Issy is advised to have patience:34 “Well but to remind to think, you where yestoday Ys Morganas war and that it is always tomorrow in toth’s tother’s place. Amen” (570.12).

This suggests that the “other place” of Thoth is the female toth.35 An Egyptian reference brought to mind by “toth’s tother’s place” is The Place of Thoth, name of the ancient shrine of the god, which cannot now be located; it is buried in time (Boylan, p. 147). The image of his “other place” as the female genitals is strengthened by “Amen” which follows “tother’s place”, for amen in middle Egyptian means “concealed, hidden”, and the god so named is, in Budge’s words, “the personification of the hidden and unknown creative power which was associated with the primal abyss gods in the creation of the world . . .” (Gods, II, 2).

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The Isian dimension of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake is surely evident in this Bloomsday celebration:

Bloomsday has also been celebrated since 1994 in the Hungarian town of Szombathely, the fictional birthplace of Leopold Bloom’s father, Virág Rudolf, an emigrant Hungarian Jew. The event is usually centered on the Iseum, the remnants of an Isis temple from Roman times, and the Blum-mansion, commemorated to Joyce since 1997, at 40–41 Fő street, which used to be the property of an actual Jewish family called Blum.

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